Created by Richmond, Virginia-based Martin & Woltz (now the storied Martin Agency, also of Geico fame) for the Virginia State Travel Service (now the Virginia Tourism Corporation) in 1969, “Virginia is for lovers” celebrates its golden anniversary in 2019.
The iconic campaign continues to woo visitors. From $1.3 billion in 1969, economic impact from travel in the Commonwealth reached $26 billion in 2018.
The love messaging is everywhere. Another branding initiative, “LOVEworks” has produced more than 150 “LOVE” signs around the state, fashioned by artists from materials of local significance.
Groups also get the love note. Across distinctive coastal, urban, rural and mountain destinations, Virginia is for meetings with history, innovation, food, wine, culture and the great outdoors, with endless personalization options. Here are some of the many centers of affection for making that Virginia love connection.
Groups Love That Fairfax Feeling
Located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., with access via Metrorail, Fairfax County’s advantages include accessibility and value.
“Planners tell us that flying here can be more affordable than to many other cities around the country,” said Ali Morris, destination marketing manager for Visit Fairfax. “This is based on available direct flights into our three area airports, Dulles International, Reagan National and BWI International, all with proximity to a collection of three- and four-star corporate meeting hotels.”
Photo: Fairfax Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center 1, Credit: Dane Perland
“Our rates and taxes are typically lower than in D.C.,” Morris said. “Parking is often free, and restaurants and attractions are also priced more favorably, which saves attendees money for more experiential activities.”
Other distinct advantages include ready access to thought leaders, speakers and other D.C. movers and shakers. Fairfax also mixes urban appeal with outdoor experiences ranging from hiking, rafting and golf to bald eagle viewing and horseback riding. The thriving culinary scene includes chef-driven restaurants, wineries and breweries.
“We have also expanded our turnkey destination services this year with complimentary customized Save the Date postcards to help larger groups boost their attendance,” Morris said.
[Related: How History Helped Shape Virginia’s Venue Options]
Five Fetching Fairfax Venues:
Tysons Tower: Located adjacent to the Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner Center, this 22-story LEED Gold-certified tower is for unforgettable sunset receptions on its rooftop deck.
Wolf Trap: At the only U.S. National Park dedicated to the performing arts, groups can enjoy catered wine dinners served on a private deck followed by headline entertainment at the majestic Filene Center.
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Private events soar amid icons of air and space flight at this Smithsonian Institution, with the 800-capacity Space Hangar among the versatile rentals.
Workhouse Arts Center: Originally a prison tied to the women’s suffrage movement, this unique arts studio offers its galleries, outdoor pavilion, theater and classrooms for events. Featuring Fairfax County’s first LOVE sign, the center will soon unveil a new museum dedicated to the suffrage movement.
National Museum of the United States Army: On track for mid-2020, this stirring new venue will offer rentals including the soaring central lobby, grand Veterans Hall and Medal of Honor Garden. Plus, full catering kitchen.
Innovation in Alexandria
Neighboring Alexandria has been a seat of knowledge since 1749. It’s home to more than 400 associations, the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the National Science Foundation.
“Alexandria is fueled by a spirit of innovation that dates back to our days as George Washington’s adopted hometown,” said Lorraine Lloyd, vice president of sales and international marketing for Visit Alexandria. “Delegates feel the same energy that inspired some of Washington’s biggest ideas, housed at nearby Mount Vernon.”
The bureau’s just-launched Leadership Collection at Alexandria allows planners to tap into this same breakthrough thinking with customizable programs at Alexandria’s nationally recognized strategy and teambuilding institutes. These include the George Washington Leadership Institute at Mount Vernon, McChrystal Group and Building Momentum.
Virginia Resorts are the Perfect Meetings Match
Seated in some of the Commonwealth’s most scenic landscapes, Virginia’s resorts are ready matches for uniquely productive and imaginative agendas. Take Kingsmill Resort, for example, which is one of 11 IACC-certified venues across Virginia. Its sprawling 425-room property in Williamsburg offers 16,000-plus square feet of space along the historic James River.
Additionally, Salamander Resort & Spa is another notable venue. To quote founder and CEO Sheila C. Johnson, "Memorable events are an expression of their surroundings,” and that’s effortlessly true of her property. Set on 340 acres in Virginia’s pastoral horse and wine country, this 168-room country estate turns on the charm with elegant ballrooms, outdoor Culinary Gardens, luxury spa and more.
Here are a few more resorts in Virginia for planners to keep on their radar.
Primland Resort, Meadows of Dan
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Primland Resort is a secluded gem in the mountains of southwest Virginia. Surrounded by Blue Ridge peaks, this sanctuary in the mystical-sounding Meadows of Dan includes an observatory for stargazing, three luxurious tree houses, and abundant outdoor pursuits including golf and fishing.
Photo: Aerial, Courtesy: Primland
“Hosting everything from corporate retreats to product launches, we are still somewhat undiscovered,” said Julee Midden, Primland Resort’s director of sales and marketing. “While most of our business is local and regional, including Charlotte and D.C., we are seeing more bookings from Boston, New York City, Chicago and Hartford.”
Offering 51 guest rooms and 10 mountain homes for property buyouts, Primland’s versatile venues include a 2,178-square-foot ballroom and 17-seat executive boardroom with global video conferencing. Authentic experiences and superior hospitality help seal the deal.
“We love sharing our local heritage with guests, including bluegrass music, specialty moonshine cocktails and our signature Pig Candy (candied bacon), which goes far in winning bids,” Midden said. “Planners love our adaptability. We make decisions quickly and flexibly accommodate unique requests, such as once building a road for a client. The genuine Southern hospitality extended by our mostly local team brings groups back time and again.”
Notable Resort Renovations in Virginia
Boar’s Head Resort completed a multimillion-dollar reimagination in May 2019. This historic Charlottesville 600-acre resort offers 22,000 square feet of flexible meeting and ballroom space. Renovation highlights include the full design of the 175-room AAA Four Diamond property’s famed Old Mill Room restaurant, with enhanced private dining and banquet space for larger groups.
In March 2019, Lansdowne Resort and Spa returned to the Benchmark Resorts & Hotels portfolio.
Photo: Lansdowne aerial, Credit: Matthew Flowers Photography
Opened by Benchmark in 1991, the award-winning resort, just 15 minutes from Dulles International Airport, features 296 newly renovated guest rooms and 55,000 square feet of versatile space. Unique offerings include the newly introduced Harmony Model Wellness Program. The program—through a collaboration with the World Health Organization—will be based off of a blend of Eastern and Western wellness practices, and will eventually include elements like a botanical garden.
Urban enclaves include the luxurious 300-room Hilton Norfolk The Main, offering 60,000 square feet of IACC-approved space including Virginia's largest hotel ballroom. Additionally, the 468-room Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel offers 43,000-plus square feet of freshly tuned indoor and outdoor space, because of a $13 million revitalization completed September 2018.
Emily Kicker // Junior Civitan Membership Specialist, Civitan International // Birmingham, Alabama
Describe your meeting.
Junior Civitan is the youth program of our global service-driven organization. We hold an annual summer convention to celebrate these middle and high school student members for their dedicated community service around the globe. The program includes training for the following year, fundraising and fellowship. We chose Fairfax County for the four-day 2019 program, bringing 200 attendees.
Why did you select Fairfax County?
Because of its proximity to hundreds of tourist attractions and the exciting “once-in-a-lifetime” destination appeal for many of our members.
Which specific venues did you utilize?
Primarily the Hyatt Regency Dulles and the Fairfax County CVB, which provided our members with information on local attractions.
How would you describe your overall experience?
It was great. Our members loved the convention and popular tourist destinations around the county, including Mount Vernon and National Air and Space Museum at the Udvar-Hazy Center. They most enjoyed their free time. Fairfax County has something for everyone, and our members were especially drawn to the area’s rich history.
Anybody you’d single out for special mention?
Dean Miller with the Fairfax CVB was great to work with. He was most helpful with information, scheduling and planning, making the site selection process a breeze. Lizzie Archer with the Hyatt Regency Dulles was also a huge help. She took charge of our event months in advance and did everything she could to ensure its success.
Would you book Fairfax County again?
We usually wait several years before returning to a convention site so that our members have unique experiences during their time in our organization. However, we would absolutely return to Fairfax County in the future so that a new group can enjoy the same fun and memories.
Richmond is for Capital Connections
Calling cards in Virginia’s historic headquarters start with devoted turnkey support on all fronts.
“Our services team works closely with group clients from the outset,” said Dasha Runyan, vice president of sales and services for Richmond Region Tourism. “This allows for a high degree of customized solutions, collaboration and high-impact experiences.”
Examples include connecting meetings professionals with local intellectual capital and other knowledge resources.
“We are able to leverage our strong connections to the universities, VA Bio+Tech Park, the life sciences hub, innovation community and other economic development entities in the region,” Runyan said.
In October 2018, Richmond was named an “All-Star” city for achieving the highest rank in Virginia on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Municipal Equality Index (MEI) scorecard. Identified as “a city boldly leading the way to equality” in HRC’s 2018 MEI Report, Richmond also had the most significant increase of the 506 municipalities scored across the nation.
Exemplary programs include BLK RVA, a recent collaboration between Richmond Region Tourism and 20-plus community leaders promoting African American tourism.
“Celebrating the Richmond region as a multicultural hub that specializes in four pillars—arts and entertainment, food and drink, community and history—this initiative further highlights the Richmond region as a diverse and welcoming destination,” Runyan said. “It aligns with our focus on connecting with our past, celebrating the present and looking towards the future.”
This intentional approach has garnered Richmond a slew of other recent accolades. The love includes "America’s Next Great Restaurant-Obsessed Town” (Bon Appétit); one of the "Best Places to Live in America" (Business Insider) and “The Most Inspiring Art City in America” (Departures).
“As part of its new ‘Edward Hopper and the American Hotel’ exhibit, the event-capable Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) is constructing an actual motel room modeled on Hopper’s ‘Western Motel’ painting that visitors can explore and even sleep in,” Runyan added. “Richmond is all about creating authentic and unique experiences, and that includes the group market.
“We recently partnered with the VMFA to deliver a docent-led ‘Behind the Music’ tour for a group of national meeting planners. It’s just one example of how we create personalized experiences and memories for our clients.”
3 Top Richmond Meeting Venues
Richmond’s group appeal is apparent in its wide selection of event-capable venues. These are our top picks for your next event.
1. Greater Richmond Convention Center: At 700,000 square feet, this multi-purpose complex is Virginia’s largest exhibition and meeting facility.
2. Main Street Station: Also known as The Shed, this elegantly restored 100,000-square-foot train terminal is one of Richmond’s most sought-after event venues. Offering scenic city views, the glass-enclosed facility can accommodate 3,000-plus guests, along with the historic 738-capacity Headhouse.
Photo: Main Street Station Clock, Courtesy: Visit Richmond)
3. Hippodrome Theater: Known as the “Harlem of the South” in the 1920s, Richmond’s storied Jackson Ward neighborhood is home of the Hippodrome Theater, a venerated former vaudeville house and movie theater from 1914.
Photo: Known as the “Harlem of the South” in the 1920s, Richmond’s storied Jackson Ward neighborhood is home of the Hippodrome Theater, a venerated former vaudeville house and movie theater from 1914. Courtesy of Visit Richmond.
Played by legends including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, this National Historic Landmark today serves as an event-capable entertainment venue. Versatile spaces include the 525-capacity Main Floor; balcony-level Screening Room; and 50-person Speakeasy Grill, formerly the circa-1895 Taylor Mansion.
From its diverse set of unique venues and culture to its ability to connect your group to industry-specific thought leaders, it’s clear that Virginia’s capital city is poised to be an east meetings magnet for years to come.
Connect and Visit
Alexandria | 703.652.5369
Fairfax | 703.790.0643
Charlottesville Albemarle CVB | 434.293.6789
City of Danville | 434.799.5200
City of Lynchburg | Office of Economic Development and Tourism | 434.485.7290
Richmond Region Tourism | 804.783.7450
Chesapeake Parks, Recreation and Tourism | 757.382.6411
City of Portsmouth | 757.393.5111
Hampton CVB | 757.722.1222
Newport News Tourism | 757.886.7777
Suffolk Division of Tourism | 757.514.4130
Virginia Beach CVB | 757.385.4700
VisitNorfolk | 757.664.6620
Williamsburg Destination Marketing Committee | 757.229.6511
Abingdon CVB | 276.676.2282
Bristol CVB | 423.989.4850
Montgomery County COC | 540.382.3020
Lexington & the Rockbridge Area Tourism | 540.463.3777
Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge | 540.342.6025